The Sawyer family have been up to no good; it may be their youngest boy's birthday, but despite singing "Happy birthday to you!" at him and presenting him with a cake, there is a darker side to their antics, for in the corner there is a hostage. The matriarch, Verna (Lili Taylor), is insistent that this man is responsible for stealing her pigs on their farm, something he denies, though what he is sure of is this brood will receive their comeuppance no matter what they do to him. What they want to do is feed him the cake - a cake filled with entrails - and get the youngest to wield a chainsaw in his general direction, so much so that the kid will disembowel the hostage right there on his big day.
The fact that this kid does not slice open the man's guts is supposed to be a step in the right direction, which one supposes it is, though given the title was Leatherface your average horror buff would be able to predict hope for a normal life in the long run was thin on the ground. No sooner have we been introduced to the Sawyers than we get a scene where they kill a young woman who strayed from the road (their fault - they lured her there with the boy faking anxiety), and though Sheriff Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) cannot pin the murder on them, he is able to prove the family are a bad influence and take Verna's kids away (she may be their aunt, mother or some other relation).
Thus we jump ten years later and a guessing game commences where we have to guess which of the characters we are following at this teen orphanage cum mental hospital will become Leatherface. This is fairly easy to work out if you had seen the poster which blew the whole secret, but if you had managed to avoid that then it was not a bad hook to hang this prequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on. Of course, this was by now the eighth entry in the series, and the second prequel after Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (which wasn't that bad), and the second effort to be named after the Leatherface character since 1990's third sequel, so the threat of repetition was in the air.
How would directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo get around this? They had built up a minor cult reputation through their run of horror movies, starting with the intense Inside and continuing with tribute-paying works to the shockers of the nineteen-seventies, so would have appeared to be ideal for this. So it was that while not everyone agreed with their choices and questioned what the point in Seth M. Sherwood's reboot screenplay was in the first place, they were at least trying a variant on what was a very well-worn premise, and after freeing a bunch of inmates from the asylum, along with nurse hostage Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse), they attempted to deliver a Badlands vibe to go along with their grotesqueries. You couldn't fault their ambition, and acknowledge this was an uphill climb.
Yet for all the reservations, Leatherface as a horror movie was impressive to a point, even if there were protests this was not a proper Texas Chainsaw movie apparently because it failed to replicate entire sequences from the previous entries and had a go at something fresh. The issue with that was no matter what they dropped in, from Taylor's maternal influence on a premise that had none in the original (Leatherface was effectively the "mother" in that one) to adding random items of disgust such as necrophilia, the whole inspiration was simply the ginormous elephant in the room, and being the vivid, unforgettable experience it is anything they tried was going to be overshadowed by Tobe Hooper's relentless source material. This was his final credit on a movie before his death the same year as this was released, and was both fitting as it was a not bad rendering of his famed works, but also a little sad that he had never lived it down. Still, better one classic than none, and if this was no classic it was an improvement on the usual shaky quality of this franchise's follow-ups. Music by John Frizzell.
[Lionsgate's DVD has a making of featurette as an extra.]